Help! Is my maple tree dead?

Discussion in 'Maples' started by Christer, Jun 1, 2017.

  1. Christer

    Christer New Member

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    Hi there. Four years ago (May 2013) I bought two "Autumn Blaze" (Acer x freemanii 'Jeffersred') Maples from a local nursery and had them professionally planted about 30 ft. apart in our suburban back yard. They seemed to take to their new home and get established nicely, and both grew significantly each year. Last fall they were both beautiful and healthy-looking—around 20 ft. tall.

    Sadly, this spring, one of them budded and leafed out like normal, and the other didn't leaf at all. I'd think it is completely dead except for the fact that it is now sprouting a few new sprigs/leaves directly out of the trunk, right at the junction where the trunk first starts to branch. There are basically no leaves on the canopy.

    Any idea what could have happened? Why would this tree “die” while it's brother is just fine? Is it salvageable? Anything I can do to help it?

    My wife and I are super bummed, as we bought these trees for our kids—one for each—so they could grow together. Our daughter is sad that "her tree" is dead. :(

    Thanks for any help you can give me.

    tree3..jpg
    tree5..jpg
    tree6..jpg tree7..jpg tree8..jpg
     
  2. 0soyoung

    0soyoung Member

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    I am very familiar with your climate. Winter air is generally quite dry and winter days are very sunny. Add a dash of wind and it is an extremely effective freeze dryer that is extremely difficult for maples to withstand. I see that the tree with the dead top is in the corner of the yard, right near to a fence. My guess is that were it not for the fence you would have either a totally dead tree or one that is only sprouting from very near the ground. Is the tree that is okay and 30 feet away more sheltered from wind/sun?
     
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  3. Christer

    Christer New Member

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    Thanks for the reply, Osoyoung. You're right about our winters being dry/sunny, but all things considered, this past winter was very mild (much more so than the previous 3 it survived well). And to answer your question, the olther healthy maple is similarly exposed, just in the other corner, and doing fine.

    You think this tree is salvageable?
     
  4. JT1

    JT1 Rising Contributor

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    Hi Christer, welcome to the best maple forum on the net!

    I noticed, the tree behind the fence in the neighbors yard appears to be dead in the first picture. If that is the case it gives me pause. This makes me wonder what killed the neighbors tree and did it impact this tree that is close by. For example, I have seen weed and feed kill or severely weaken maple trees in suburban areas. I have also seen chemical fertilizers do the same... Because maples have abundant surface feeder roots, what you (or your neighbor) puts down on the lawn can have devastating effects (even those products that claim to be safe). It's possible that since the tree is in a corner, that it got double coverage from a fertilizer spreader which could double the recommended application rate of chemicals. With it being close to a fence what was applied to the other side of the fence could impact this tree.

    I have also seen pest and bores attack the weaker of two trees. For example they attacked the neighbors tree and the weaker of your two trees.

    The tree could recover, but it is in a critical state. Any stressor could cause it to die. Do not use any weed killer. Do not use any chemical fertilizers. Inspect the tree for any bore holes. Give the trees water to supplement any shortage of rainfall in the future to prevent drought stress.

    Will it survive...only time will tell. Since the tree has sentimental value, my advice is to try and save it. If I was in your shoes that's what I would do. At least you can tell your daughter that you are going to try and save the tree. . That it's sick and we will try to make it all better again. If it does not make it, then maybe consider taking her to the nursery to pick one out or surprise her with a new tree (maybe a tree that is her favorite color, or a name that speaks to her). But trying to save it will show her that we try to help things in need. (anyway I should not give parenting advice, not my area of expertise and only you know how to be a parent to your kids, but I will give tree advice)

    For both trees, I would clear away the lawn from the trunk. It appears the base has been damaged by a mower or string trimmer. Pull any weeds by hand, don't use the mower or string trimmer to cut them down. Consider making a clearing around the tree as a buffer against future damage from lawn maintenance machinery. Mulch the area to prevent new weeds from intruding. But please...please..please... don't pile mulch up around the trunk like so many poorly informed landscapers do, it kills the tree.

    If chemical fertilizers we're used then try to neutralize them by brewing cheap ice tea and water around an area 10' around the tree or the area on the other side of the fence with a watering can.

    Consider using an organic fertilizer with beneficial microbes. I recommend PHC Roots 7-7-7.
    A.M. Leonard Tools for the Horticultural Industry since 1885.

    Or

    M-roots 3-3-3 (I do not have personal experience with M-ROOTS, but would strongly consider using it if faced with a tree like yours. I use the one above on all my maples)
    A.M. Leonard Tools for the Horticultural Industry since 1885

    Or

    Vertical Mulching (much more work but very beneficial) with PHC plant saver
    A.M. Leonard Tools for the Horticultural Industry since 1885.
    More info on vertical mulching:
    Vertical mulching a tree's critical root zone increases health and vigor.
    (Note in your case a hand held drill is a better solution than a power auger. Using a metal spike and doing it by hand is a safer approach but much more work)

    Organic fertilizer will not harm the tree and one with beneficial microbes will allow the tree to use what is only needed to repair, restore health and energy reserves, healthy root growth (critical if roots were damaged by chemicals), without forcing canopy growth like chemical fertilizers do that will stress and kill your tree. Both trees will benefit from this treatment.

    You have lots of sprouts coming from the trunk where the branches start. Consider removing some to thin the cluster. Try to limit the amount of removal to 25%. Don't remove them all. Consider removing the ones that are not sustainable, like the ones that are growing to the inside of the tree. Also consider as the sprouts thicken and become branches, they can't survive all clustered together, for example if 3 are sprouting from the same spot, remove all but one or two. This will help more energy get to the rest of the canopy and grow only sustainable new branches. All those "suckers" are limiting the available energy down stream. But don't remove them all because the tree needs leaves to survive at this point, it's all about balance and thoughtful removal of the unsustainable sprouts.

    Hope you find this helpful. In all the information above, don't lose sight of the investigation of the cause. I think it's either a pest infestation, but more likely a unintentional poisoning of chemical fertilizer or weed killer/ weed and feed.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  5. Christer

    Christer New Member

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    Thank you for the thorough reply, JT. I've got 4 small kids ... your parenting advice feels sound to me. :)

    Regarding the dead tree in the neighbor's yard: It's hard to tell in the photo, but that's actually across the street and probably at least 120 ft. away. More importantly, though, that tree looked much like that 5 years ago when we moved in ... back when this maple was just a twinkle in my eye. It's been dead standing for years, so unrelated.

    That said, your comments about chemical fertilizer piqued my interest. We don't use any on our lawn, on account of our kids playing out there all the time. But just on the other side of the older section of fence in photo 2 is the greenest lawn in a 5 mile radius. Seriously. It beats most putting greens. I don't know exactly what that guy puts on it (I'm thinking dark green paint), but he has sung the praises of REVIVE. I know he's a big fan of that and uses it regularly (both granules and liquid). This maple is within probably 8 ft. of that lawn, and the root system probably extends right under it. I'd guess he definitely uses weed killer, because his lawn has exactly zero weeds.

    Thank you for the fertilizer recommendations and the sprout pruning advice. Unfortunately I can't control what my neighbor dumps on his lawn, but if there's something I can do to give this tree a chance to fight back, I'd like to (maybe your tea suggestion). My daughter (and my wife and I) sure would be happy if we could save it!

    One other question: What should I do with the dead branches? Leave 'em? Cut 'em off? I assume the won't regenerate themselves and suddenly sprout leaves since it seems the tree is forcing new sprouts out from the trunk?

    Thanks again.
     
  6. Christer

    Christer New Member

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    Here are a couple pics of the two maples, for comparison. Ironically, the now mostly dead one is the one that was historically healthier of the two, growing more rapidly and spreading out better.
    tree9..jpg
    tree10..jpg
     
  7. 0soyoung

    0soyoung Member

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    I don't think this is due to anything your neighbor threw on his lawn or anything soil-born for that matter. The reason being that water with whatever else in the soil is drawn up the tree by evaporation of water from the leaves (transpiration). There is no movement of the xylem sap if there are no leaves. Movement of the xylem sap is required to transport a soil 'contaminant' into the canopy. So, if it were due to your neighbor and what goes on 'his' lawn, the tree should have shown signs of failure before leaf drop last fall - you do not indicate this happened. Therefore, the damage is indicated to have been the result of something that happened since leaf drop last fall, which means a winter pathogen like pseudomonas syringae or desiccation as I described in my OP.

    I say this only because I think it maybe more important to understand what is not the cause as the cause may never be known definitively. I don't mean to quibble.

    Regardless, I agree that you must try to save the tree and be prepared for whatever the outcome may be.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  8. JT1

    JT1 Rising Contributor

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    The insects that lead to bores fly, so 120' is within reach, but I put it out there as a less likely possibility in my logic. It was most likely chemical.

    The faster growing tree had more roots that came into contact with the chemicals, so the one healthy tree is now suffering and the slower growing tree escaped (just hope it doesn't continue to be a problem in the future)

    Hold off on removing any branches for now. You may find that the thicker branches get new buds and the thinner branches (that stem off of the thicker branches) will die. I have seen this happen many times. It may continue to get new buds and leaf out throughout the canopy, starting at the lowest branches and work up from the center. By July you will have a good idea of what needs removed and you may just want to wait until fall to do any branch removal. By that time you will either have a tree worth keeping or you may decide to replace. The next landmark will be next spring. Unfortunately a stressed tree can fail over winter when it has little to no energy reserves to overcome environmental stress. The key is to try and minimize any drought stress.

    [Most people are in touch with Summer drought, but a late season drought can be just as deadly. We once had a dry period that started in September and lasted through November. This can be the silent killer because people don't think to water that late in the season. The lawns tend to stay green without all the heat and take advantage of morning dew. Meanwhile everything in the landscape is suffering. Most think fall came early when the tree looses it's leaves, but then are surprised when it's dead come spring.]

    Back on topic...We had this happen with our neighbor, so I will use my personal experience and observations to guide my advice. Do the tea as you said, it will help neutralize the chemicals. Try to get much of the soil along the fence and maybe try to get some on the other side if possible.

    [The area along the fence maybe most toxic. As chemicals are applied along a fence with a broadcast spreader, much of it hits the fence and drops causing a much higher concentration along the fence.]

    Consider dropping the spent tea bags along the fence (maybe on the other side too, away from young kids though, with strings and tags removed) as they will continue to neutralize the chemicals when it rains. If leaving tea bags on the ground is not an option, then consider another application of tea after a week.

    The vertical mulching is a great way to get nutrients to the roots without applying it to the surface where kids play. It is more work and most people don't want to put that kind of effort into a tree, much less one that may end up dieing. But I did include the link to information in the post above if you are up to the challenge.

    Sap starts flowing in our area in late January into February, long before leaves are on the tree. After that I see the lawn fanatics putting chemicals down long before the leaves are out.

    It could be bacterial but I did not see any signs from pictures. That lead me to believe it could be chemical from what I did see. With that said, I can only use my best judgement from experience and the information provided. There is no substitute for being there and knowing the history of the tree. Both are big obstacles to overcome in a situation such as this.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  9. Christer

    Christer New Member

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    You're right, Osoyoung ... the tree looked great and healthy last September (2016) ...

    tree11..JPG

    It remained heathy-looking until it dropped all its leaves in October ...

    tree12..JPG

    Really makes me think something happened between last fall and this Spring.
     
  10. JT1

    JT1 Rising Contributor

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    Taking a closer look at the new pictures, I see that the trees maybe planted too low, with the stressed tree being slightly below grade of the thriving tree.

    I have seen trees decline suddenly (most always in early spring) when they are planted too low.

    Take a close look at the base of the trunk. There should be a root flare that is above ground level. Maples are very sensitive to being planted too low especially after a wet winter and or wet spring. This can be further complicated by a low area that stays moist longer.

    Many professionals make this mistake of not finding the root flare. Too many don't take the time to remove soil from the surface (in both container grown and balled and burlap) to uncover the root flare. This leads to poor judgement in trying to get the tree planted at the proper elevation. Then natural settling occurs to make a bad situation worse. A play on words is plant it low and it won't grow, plant it high and it will thrive. (all within reason of course)

    Vertical mulching will help save a stressed tree in most cases. But if it's planted too low it is a hard problem to correct in a tree this large.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  11. 0soyoung

    0soyoung Member

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    I agree that planting too deeply can be a serious/fatal problem, but @Christer indicated that this tree thrived through 3 prior seasons. @Christer clearly hasn't piled up a lot of dirt/mulch around the tree nor apparently done anything similar to have caused the roots to suffocate. So, I think we can rule this out (i.e., highly unlikely to have been the cause in this instance).
     
  12. 0soyoung

    0soyoung Member

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    In other words (or further), the leaves dropped normally?
    They did not, say, turn brown and maybe curl, but stay attached until much later?

    Leaf abscission is an active biological process. Normal leaf drop would indicate the tree was alive at the time. Had the tree died about the time, the leaves would not have dropped as they normally do.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  13. JT1

    JT1 Rising Contributor

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    I have seen plenty of trees thrive for a few seasons or more and then die from being planted too deeply. I never said he piled up a lot of dirt or mulch around the trunk. I have seen this mistake made too, but it is a separate issue.

    I am going to leave this one up to you since you clearly have a definitive opinion on what you think is right.
     
  14. 0soyoung

    0soyoung Member

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    I'm just checking facts and looking for logically consistent cause-effect possibilities.
     
  15. JT1

    JT1 Rising Contributor

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    You may want to spend some more time looking at the pictures more closely. The problem is apparent to me.
     
  16. 0soyoung

    0soyoung Member

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    I only participate in forums such as this one to learn something.

    The photos in the original posting of this thread clearly show a tree that has some life down low and appears to be dead up high. The apparent level of death is above the union of most all of the branches with the trunk.

    What do you see that is escaping my attention?
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  17. Christer

    Christer New Member

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    Thanks for your replies, @JT1 and @0soyoung .... sorry my post caused a disagreement. You two obviously know much more about this than I do, so thanks for your help. I do think (in my amateur opinion) that the trees were planted at the correct depth. The root balls were not completely burried and there was a "flare" showing above the ground level. The soil was amended with Mycorrhizal fungi, and the tree established quickly and grew well for 3+ years.

    If it's helpful, here's a closer pic of the bottom of the tree:

    tree15..jpg

    tree16..jpg
     
  18. emery

    emery Well-Known Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    I'll chime in, and start by noting that the forum is a platform for voicing opinions as we try to help folks with their maple problems (as well as figure out our own)!

    The planting looks OK to me, tho of course John is right to note the very frequent problem of planting too deep.

    The back budding looks good and I think there is a decent chance that the tree will survive. I would be skeptical that in 3/4 years the tree would have enough roots next door to be poisoned, but it certainly is a possibility. As is the freeze theory, x freemanii is native in a much milder climate, and although I don't know 'Jeffersred' well personally, I've certainly seen rubrum behave this way (tho typically less well established). It's also possible that the roots died back, for whatever reason chemical or climate, causing a shock while new roots established with a corresponding die-off of canopy.

    With an injured tree my response is to avoid heavy intervention. I would not prune yet, as others pointed out there may be more budding along large branches. After you have established the extent of the back budding, and the initial flush is done, you could prune to 2-3 nodes below the highest budding to encourage growth. These buds will remain weak anyway, if you leave them.

    I would not thin new growth now, as IMO the tree needs all the food it can get from what leaves it can produce. You can thin this growth later to a more pleasing shape. I would give it a low intensity liquid feed with seaweed based fertilizer. Above all do not use commercial urea-based nitrogen as it will likely finish the tree.

    Your daughter needn't despair yet, trees are like people, they are sometimes sick or injured, or sometimes do well or poorly for reasons we have trouble understanding. Her tree is sick but may well recover with her love and encouragement. Seeing your kids reminded me of when mine were small: enjoy this special period with your family.

    cheers,

    -E
     
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  19. Christer

    Christer New Member

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    Thanks for the response and wisdom, @emery!

    Update ... The original canopy remains dead, the roots on the tree must be in fine shape because the new growth keeps growing and growing. In fact, I think it may be growing too quickly for it's own good because the new shoots keep getting so long and full of leaves that they don't have the strength yet to support themselves. Many have bent and committed suicide in this manner. But the cool thing is that the original canopy—though dead—remains for structural support, and is holding much of the new growth up until it can get strong.

    I'll take some photos and update after I get home.
     

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